Who is the most intriguing prospect in this year’s NBA Draft?
Is it Joel Embiid, who could be the best player in his class, but may not hear his named called until later in the night because of injury issues? How about Doug McDermott, a three-time All-American who may not even go in the top 10? Or is it someone else? Someone who isn’t nearly as high profile but is far more polarizing. We’re talking about UCLA’s Kyle Anderson.
You’re either on one end of the Anderson spectrum or the other. He inspires FOX News vs. MSNBC, total division between two completely separate factions. There’s the anti-Anderson group, who appreciates how fluid and natural he is (who wouldn’t?), but doesn’t understand how that would translate to NBA play. Then there’s the pro-Anderson camp, who will yelp at you with mainstream numbers when you mention his lack of athleticism or his well-deserved nickname of “Slow-Mo.”
“But he averaged 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game, and he was only a sophomore this year!”
We hear this argument all the time: How can a guy put up such a complete line in a power conference and still not be considered a valid NBA player?
The argument against players like Anderson isn’t about facing lesser competition, though. It’s about translatable skills, and unfortunately, points, rebounds and assist numbers don’t show off skill as much as we would like them to do so.
They don’t tell the story of Anderson playing in an offense that put the rock in his hands far more often than one in the NBA would, thus forcing him up to learn a new, off-the-ball style in the pros. They don’t explain that he’s a ball-dominant facilitator entering a pick-and-roll league who ran the screen-and-roll on only 17.8 percent of his plays this past season per Synergy Sports (other point-guard prospects have experience running it on 40 percent of their plays or more). They don’t go on to tell that UCLA averaged just 0.77 points per play on pick-and-rolls that he started. They don’t talk about his lack of athleticism or the struggles he will probably encounter guarding NBA players. Yet, we keep touting the conventional numbers when we talk about prospects, and at some point, that has to stop.
Anderson may exemplify that theory, but he’s not the only one. McDermott is in the same scenario.
McDermott averaged 26.7 points per game at Creighton as a senior, putting up 17.9 shots a night. He never posted a usage rate under 31.2 percent, in line with that of Carmelo Anthony or Russell Westbrook, during any of his final three collegiate seasons. The Creighton offense completely centered around him.
In the NBA though, we’re going to see a different Dougie.
“I still think I’ll shoot a lot of threes, obviously” McDermott guessed as he spoke about his transition to the NBA. “But I think the post-up stuff, the isos – that’s usually for a guy that’s probably the main guy on the team, and I won’t be [that guy] right when I step into the league.”
That’s the thing. These guys are going to be utilized differently. Completely differently. That’s why you can’t look at a stat like Zach LaVine’s 9.5 percent defensive rebounding rate in his one year at UCLA and label him bad on the boards in spite of his 41.5-inch vertical and superior athleticism.
“I had some leak outs,” explains LaVine, who says he runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. “I’m faster than a lot of people so I get down the court pretty quickly,”
Steve Alford made it a point to play a faster game than he had in the past during his first season as Bruins coach. LaVine was the team’s major weapon in transition. That meant he would prioritize the fast break over crashing the boards, taking off for the other end once balls clanked off the rim and often times, before the shot even made contact with the hoop.
“It’s our scouting report,” LaVine continues to expound. “If there’s a team we know we can get out and run on, we’re going to try to get out and run. And then if it’s a team that definitely goes to the glass heavy, we’re going to have more people in the box.”
Alford must’ve seen those opportunities to run, because UCLA finished the season 38th in the nation in adjusted tempo, according to KenPom.com. So, maybe in the right system, LaVine is better than his 4.2 rebounds per 40 minutes. Maybe McDermott isn’t a volume scorer. And maybe Anderson isn’t, in fact, a Swiss Army Knife.
System over numbers. Process over results. People don’t just make these things up out of nowhere. So, when you look at the numbers of a guy like Anderson, an anti-athlete who won’t be able to guard at the NBA level, remember that lesson. Recall what Evan Turner, who averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game as a junior at Ohio State for a better team, taught us as he made guys like William Buford and David Lighty look like all-world players.
Anderson may have been one of the most viscous players in the country this past season, but so was Turner. Just because you look great in college doesn’t mean that feel goes with you to the NBA game. Beauty is not a translatable stat.
(Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report, RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN‘s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.)